1. Professional Services, by nature, are complex

Professional services are about as complex as the people they sell.

That's to say, if your business sells a non-physical product or service, then your customers are buying far more than just a product or brand. What they're really buying is your knowledge and experience.

Hence why it's equally fitting to apply the nature vs nurture debate to help explain your biggest challenge as a professional services business — your people.

People inherently (nature) bring complexity to your business well before your customers bring you an external (nurture) problem to solve. So, professional services must first reduce the complexity internally by empowering a culture of trust and transparency while maintaining control and mitigating risks.

Let's say you're a major legal or accounting firm, a management consultancy, or you manage large-scale construction and engineering projects. Often, the only way of quantifying the expertise of your people is to bill their time against a long list of deliverables. But the devil is in the detail, and in most cases, it's the non-financial impact of your people (and their level of engagement) which will determine the success or failure of your business in the long run.

Gallup estimates a $7 trillion cost to the global economy per year due to low engagement alone, reporting that only 20% of the world's workers are engaged.

So, perhaps the most important challenge of all is appreciating the true complexity of the business you're in and remembering that your employees are your product.

2. Is your technology helping or hindering?

While there are many reasons for the alarming employee engagement figures, one that's grabbing the attention of professional services today is their use of technology in helping, or rather, not hindering, the engagement of their most valuable asset. According to Adobe Workfront's State of Work 2021 report, 32% of workers quit because the technology used at their workplace made it harder to do their job, while 49% of workers say they're likely to leave their current job if they're unhappy or frustrated with the technology at their workplace.

What are you doing to ensure your people are not just getting the best out of the technology they use but getting the best out of themselves due to the technology they use?

Enter Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations, a project management solution that brings together your sales, human resourcing, finance and project management into a single pane of glass. It's more than just a quote-to-invoice tool; it's a prospects-to-profits solution that can provide you with complete visibility of your projects, enhance your collaboration and increase your business agility.

Finding the right system is often easier to describe in light of experiencing the wrong one. For example, is engagement down due to a disruption in communication and collaboration? Is there a lack of transparency and, therefore, accountability for the work that needs to be prioritised? Is your legacy system difficult to customise and integrate with other third-party software, slowing your strategic decision-making down due to disparate reporting and insights?

These are all signs that you could be battling a broken tech stack which is costing you far more than the direct loss of time.

3. Is your long sales funnel leaking revenue?

Professional services attract a complex and often lengthy sales cycle, leaving your client-facing teams with an overinflated pipeline of prospects. And that pipeline can take time and focus away from the actual delivery of a project once you close the deal.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations can address a common pain point: the lack of visibility and insight captured from prospects at key increments along the sales cycle. The lack of visibility and understanding means opportunities can slip through the cracks. So, instead of allocating 80% of your time to the top 20% of genuine opportunities, you waste more than half your time on prospects that will never invest in your services. Then, when you do finally close a deal, there's a lack of ownership and accountability because your client's expectations, set months and months prior, are no longer aligned to the realities of delivering your services.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations comes with CRM capabilities built within, such as lead quote and sales management. But it can also integrate seamlessly with most CRMs, whether it's Dynamics 365 Sales or a third-party solution. One of the core benefits of system integration is to provide your sales teams with a complete end-to-end system that can help shorten your project lifecycle from prospecting to profits. It's not about overwhelming your salespeople with unnecessary information; it's about providing them with the information they need when they need it and allowing information to flow back through the client journey.

Suppose your sales cycles do continue to blow out. In that case, other benefits include the ability to quote more accurately with flexible pricing models on the go that help your salespeople maintain client expectations, leaving little chance for nasty surprises on your invoice.

4. How do you find the right balance between customisation and standardisation?

One of the unique advantages of professional services is the broad exposure to client challenges. Depending on your industry, you may help clients stay ahead of today's governance and compliance laws. You may have expertise in mitigating the growing cyber security threat. Or perhaps you're helping manufacturing clients streamline their supply chain and logistics.

Regardless of the industry, the broad exposure to industry challenges gives professional services an edge over their clients. No advantage is more appealing than the standardisation of proven processes and methodologies when solving your industry's most complex problems.

Over 1 million businesses worldwide are already using Microsoft technology, but how many fail to leverage their entire suite of solutions, especially at the enterprise level where standardisation can have the most significant impact? Why reinvent the wheel when you can deploy a proven out of the box system that has been developed off the back of millions of use cases globally? Of course, no two businesses are the same, but the vast proportion of businesses are identical, so that's where it makes sense to align your processes and technology.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations solves the problem of standardisation with a clear blueprint of how you could be running your professional services business more efficiently.

5. There's a growing talent gap

Another advantage unique to professional services is that it attracts high-performance talent looking for the most challenging of problems to solve at higher-than-average salaries.

This especially rings true for your Project Management Office (PMO), the backbone of any professional services business. A good PMO understands the importance of balancing customisation with standardisation, but a great Project Manager (PM) is increasingly difficult to hire. In fact, the Project Management Institute estimates the global economy will need 25 million new project professionals by 2030. So, to close the talent gap, 2.3 million project managers will need to fill these roles every year just to keep up with client demand.

Earlier, we mentioned the link between low engagement rates among workers globally and their frustrations with the technology available to them at their workplace. Well, part of this problem is in employers completely restricting their employees' use of software or limiting the customisation of the software they use. While too much freedom of choice can lead to inefficiencies, it's important to remember this factor when retaining your best talent.

Let's look at a management consultancy. Like any professional service, their projects are often stretched in both time and resourcing, especially when the number of projects increases faster than they can allocate resources.

When given access to the right tools, a highly effective PM can bring structure and intelligence to your business, help identify where your business is under or over-resourced, and how best to balance the demands of your clients.

One of the most significant benefits of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations is the boost that your PMs get in the visibility of their projects — everything from your deal and quote management, timesheets and billing, and resource optimisation all get solved too, but the 'at-a-glance' visibility is what really gives project managers that aha moment.

But without a robust tool like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations, even the most highly effective PMs can lose sight of their projects, leading to a drop in collaboration with stakeholders and poor communication with leaders.

Summary

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations offers a complete end-to-end solution for your projects by seamlessly connecting your sales and marketing with your project managers to your executives.

But if your leaders are really looking to drive innovative change, they'll need to understand the indirect and non-financial benefits of the tools they do and don't use.

Let’s repeat ourselves a little here because it’s worth the mention. Gallup estimates a $7 trillion cost to the global economy per year due to low engagement alone, reporting that only 20% of the world's workers are engaged. So, these are just a handful of the challenges worth solving when you look at the fiscal impact of 'not' doing so.

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